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Articles / Campus Life / My Annual Packing-for-College Roundup

My Annual Packing-for-College Roundup

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Aug. 10, 2017

Yes, boys and girls, Moms and Dads, it's that time again. Get ready to pack for college! I hear both shrieks of joy and groans out there. The joy comes from collegians; the groans from parents.

Granted, some college students don't want to return to campus. The thought of academic pressure or returning to a campus that they view with, at best, lukewarm affection can be off-putting. Alternatively, some parents are counting the days until they have the house back to themselves and no longer have to have their sleep interrupted by the wee-hours returns of their sons and daughters. So, the joy and groans can work both ways.

In past posts here about packing for college, I've noted the sheer volume differences between how guys pack, compared to the girls' approaches. An epoch analogy might be Spartan vs. Baroque. Or, Functional vs. (possibly) frivolous. Backpack vs. steamer trunk. Volkswagen vs. Rolls-Royce.

So, I did the requisite research to see what current thoughts about collegiate packing are out there, and have chosen a few interesting, if not practical, highlights from all the links that came back to me. Ready. Set. Pack!

First, selections from some quite practical advice from Reader's Digest:

Bring From Home:

  • 2 weeks worth of underwear and socks
  • Clothes that will carry you through fall temperatures (you can bring your winter gear at Thanksgiving)
  • Pajamas (you might be hanging around the dorm in them, so skip the skimpy ones)
  • Raincoat & boots
  • Fall jacket
  • Hat & gloves (if climate-appropriate)
  • At least one cocktail dress or jacket & tie (for semiformal events, particularly if you're planning to rush a fraternity or sorority)
  • At least one pair of dress shoes
  • Sneakers
  • Everyday shoes
  • Hiking boots if you plan to explore the outdoors
  • At least one bathing suit
  • Flip-flops
  • Bathrobe

Buy at School:

  • Bathroom caddy or toiletries bag (you may be toting it from your room to the bathroom daily)
  • Your favorite toiletries: Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer, facial soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, hairbrush, styling gel, baby powder, deodorant, razor, shaving cream, nail clippers, etc.
  • Hair dryer
  • Over the counter medications: Ibuprofen, antacid, cold reliever, band-aids, antibacterial gel, etc.
  • Earplugs (you may be bunking with a snorer)
  • Cleaning supplies: Surface spray or wipes, laundry detergent, dish soap, aromatic room spray, stain remover, etc.
  • Air freshener

For contrast (and laughs), how about 7 Things You Absolutely Need To Pack For College:

1. Refrigerator

Trust us, you are NOT going to want to eat in the dorm cafeteria every day. Your fridge is gonna be a lifesaver on campus—but whether you fill it with healthy snacks or leftover pizza is up to you!

2. Washer & Dryer

Nobody likes the smelly guy on campus. Between messy late-night partying and sweaty sprints to class the next morning, you're gonna need to pack a reliable washer/dryer combo to keep things fresh.

3. Grandfather Clock

Maybe this way you won't be late to EVERY class.

4. Spare Truck Tires

Whether it's a weekend trip to clear your head or a quick run to Costco for toilet paper, getting off campus every once in a while will be a must. You'll want at least one or two extra sets of high-quality truck tires with an A or AA traction rating.

5. Classical Harp

There's no quicker way to attract new friends and up your social status than by dragging this baby out on the quad for an impromptu jam session.

6. Massive Limestone Cube

You never know!

7. Your Parents

The two absolute must-haves for your first year away from home. Your parents can help you cook, clean, remain on task, and stay away from negative influences—the recipe for college success. Have fun, and don't study TOO hard!

Speaking of parents, how about some packing tips just for them?

Keep it simple! Put their hanging clothes on a rod, put the rod in the car, and carry the rod up to the dorm room. Then it's super simple to put the hanging clothes in their new dorm closet.

Make sure you and your college student are in agreement about who gets to see what – have the proxy access discussion before tuition bills … or grades are released.

Many colleges will have volunteers waiting for you to arrive on Freshman Move-In Day. The students will swarm your car, empty it, and carry everything up to the dorm room. IT IS AWESOME! Be ready for them by labeling everything with name and room number.

Just send them with one set of sheets. They can wash (yeah, right) and put right back on their bed. This will save valuable dorm room storage space – can anyone really fold a fitted sheet anyway?

Remember to pack the fun stuff they love to do. All work and no play doesn't sound like college to me!

What if you're flying back to campus instead of driving? How should you handle packing for that?

Familiarize yourself with policy

“Make sure you weigh your suitcase and pack it well," says Alyssa Fountain, a student at Pacific Lutheran University. “The worst thing that can happen is to have to repack your suitcases in the middle of the airport or find that you can't bring something that's important." Fountain has been a world traveler since she was 7 years old and her family moved from the United States to Uganda. “I flew back to the U.S. for college, which was a very interesting experience since I had to fit everything I owned into a 50-pound suitcase."

Make a list

Having to fit your whole life into a couple of bags is hard, so focus on the essentials. The easiest way to know what your essentials are is to keep a running list of everything you use for several days. Then, cross off all the toiletries, dishes and linens. You should be left with clothes, shoes, electronics and other random favorites.

You aren't moving to the Sahara Desert: chances are your college town will have a Target or Bed Bath and Beyond, so don't pack towels and shampoo. Save the space for something you can't buy when you get there.


Packing the essentials is step one. Then pack your favorite one-of-a-kind items. Don't go crazy, but putting a few pictures or favorite posters in your luggage is OK. Anything you cannot buy at a store is fair game to bring along with you, but note: if it's between underwear and a poster? Take the underwear. Once you've got everything down to a minimum, don't buy too much. You're at school, keep your life simple – especially since you'll continue to move around for a couple years. Fountain, even as a senior in college now, keeps her possessions to a minimum. It helps when she has to move. “At this point, I think I could still pack up and move with only two 50-pound suitcases," she says.

You don't need it all at once

Keep in mind you'll probably go back home at least once – if not twice – during the school year. You'll have Thanksgiving and winter breaks to go back home and grab clothes for the next season.

When those long breaks come around, pack up the clothes you're done using and switch them out for the next season's clothes when you get home. It'll prevent you from collecting clothes in your dorm and stressing when summer comes and you need to move out. If you find yourself needing something and you can't head home for a break, have your parents mail you things throughout the year (don't forget to say “please!"). Plus, getting packages from home will feel like opening a present every time.

Don't make yourself do it again

When the year is over, don't pack up and try to get everything back home. Instead, rent a storage locker for any posters or furniture you bought through the year and just take clothes and essentials home with you. You can save money by renting a storage locker with friends or using your friend's parents' garage who live in a nearby city. Local families want to help students who travel – take them up on it! Remember: your parents have shampoo, conditioner, soap and toothpaste. There's no need to pack the “essentials" like you're going on a safari. You're going home so ditch the extra weight.

Finally, how about some absolute essentials, right from the horse's (college's) mouth? In this case Kenton College:

Must haves:

– Alarm clock

– Bedding:

– Blanket, comforter, linens (extra long twin, two sets), mattress pad and cover, pillows

– All-purpose wardrobe (weather in Gambier ranges from hot to cold):

– T-shirts, tops, jeans, casual clothes

– Sweatshirts/pullovers are useful in the fall and the transition to spring.

– PJs, socks, underwear

– Hangers (bring more than you think you'll need!) and other clothes storage

– Shoes:

– Prepare for all seasons and all terrains (Middle Path can get muddy)

– Athletic shoes, comfy walking shoes, dress shoes, snow boots, etc.

– Winter supplies:

– Heavy winter coat, gloves, scarves, hats

– Rain supplies:

– Rain coat, rain boots, umbrella

– First-aid kit:

– Bandages, Neosporin, ibuprofen, prescription medications, etc.

– Surge protector (not simply an electrical or power strip — make sure that it has surge protection)

– Bathroom supplies:

– Toiletries, shower caddy, towels, washcloths, shower shoes, glasses/contacts

– Laundry supplies:

– Bag or basket, detergent, dryer sheets, quarters (machines take K-Cards and quarters: $2 for washer, $1.50 for dryer)

– Flashlight


Finally, as you pack up the family car, van, or SUV, remember one crucial thing: Keep the pile on the roof low enough to clear all Interstate overpasses and gas station canopies. You don't want to lose that priceless Justin Bieber poster. Happy packing!


Be sure to check out all my articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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